It Was 1993
by James Strauss
Arch stared down at the little radio he held in his hand. A team player at the other end had asked for a communications check, apparently from Ringo. Arch was being given a chance to hold the enemy off or blow the whole thing completely. If he ignored the radio check, then the cavalry would come rushing back at light speed. If he used the radio, and was recognized as not being Ringo, then they would not only come, but they’d come in shooting, presuming their leader to be lost. Arch made a slashing sign under his chin with his left forefinger, staring at the two women who’d somehow thrown in with him, or at least acted like they’d thrown in. He wasn’t worried about Harpo. The dingo just sat and stared, giving Arch the kind of approval and support only a silent friendly animal can provide. With his right thumb he pushed the little red transmit button down.
“Johnny One, five by five,” Arch said, holding the little radio out near the end of his arm to sound as faint and indistinct as possible.
“Johnny two, copy?” he continued, following normal radio procedure to assure that everyone on the team was in active communication. Arch was presuming there was a ‘two,’ because of the three Suburban’s and the fact that there was obviously a self-described ‘three.’
“Two, five,” came right back out of the radio’s little speaker. Five was the code word used in almost all radio communications indicating clear reception.
“Hold position until further notice,” Arch said, and then
“Johnny one, out,” before the others had a chance to respond to the order.
Two radio clicks came back. The other agents had briefly pushed their transmit buttons to send those affirming clicks. Arch’s feeling of relief was so great that his upper body sagged slightly. He rested the radio on top of the dining table and sat back into the chair. Harpo got up, walked over and sat beside him. Arch petted his head, which for some reason the dingo grudgingly allowed.
“What does this mean?” Cyn asked, slashing her finger across her throat under her chin. Atlantis sat next to her, obviously waiting for his answer.
Arch stared at the two women. He vaguely shook his head. What was he doing with two rank amateur losers of the highest order, working the most dangerous mission he’d been on since Vietnam? Arch looked down at the dingo. Three rank amateurs, he thought, although Harpo didn’t seem to be a loser.
“It means keep silent,” he responded, imitating the gesture so they’d understand the significance.
“Do you only do that to women?” Atlantis asked, her tone seemingly one of innocent inquiry.
Arch didn’t know what to say. The woman’s question was as bizarre as her earlier question about Cyn and him having a ‘thing.’ He could not fathom what she was talking about. It was apparent that all of them were at risk of losing their lives, or being locked up in some cell forever, and yet ridiculous nonsense kept creeping in instead of a growing awareness of their potentially deadly danger.
“I had to make sure the other guys on the radio didn’t hear you in the background,” Arch explained, analytically and logically.
“Duh,” Cyn answered, her voice nearly a whisper. “We’re not idiots, you know. Without us you’re about as likely to get off this island as this building.”
“I’m really sorry,” Arch lied, as sincerely as he could. It was 1993, and he was playing a high stakes poker game for all their lives, but with a hand containing cards without faces, or with not enough numbers on them. Arch wondered if there was enough of a lull in their pell mell rush to survive that he could isolate himself, open the file, and finally internalize its contents. The top secret file was what had put them together in this predicament and it might well hold the key to their staying alive. Arch reached for the canvas sack at the same time a dual-engine airplane screamed down the runway with a roar. Its propellers were only a few feet above the tarmac as it made a low pass from one end of the airport to the other. At the same time Arch heard a kicking sound from behind him. He looked out at the airstrip, but the plane was gone, it’s engines vaguely whining, as it banked to come around for a landing. He turned his head back to check out the kicking sounds. They were coming from under the buffet table where they’d deposited Ringo and Raul.
“Duct tape?” Arch asked, getting to his feet. “Do you have any duct tape?” He looked at Atlantis.
“I guess so, somewhere around here,” she replied, ducking back behind the counter. “They can’t be coming to yet. My boyfriend sleeps for hours.”
Arch didn’t point out that the creatures they’d dragged under the table were likely not even of the same species as her boyfriend, much less in the same physical condition or mental orientation. He had to secure them and assure their silence, at least for the time it would take to handle the pilot if he could not be prevented from coming inside the terminal. The file would have to wait, again. Arch pushed the crumpled remains of smeared cardboard and paper back into the canvas sack and cinched it up. Atlantis brought out a half used roll of duct tape and plopped in onto the table.
“Is there something they call you for short?” Arch asked her, grabbing the tape and heading for the buffet table with Harpo at his side.
“Atlantis,” she said back, flouncing her hair and joining Cyn who was standing at the window watching the Beechcraft 350 King Air taxi up to the terminal.
“Women,” Arch breathed silently, so only Harpo could hear. The dingo seemed to nod in agreement.
“We’ll go down and see if we can make the deal,” Cyn said to Arch, as he knelt finishing the job under the table. “If he’s got room and accepts money I’ll wave. Harpo. If I don’t wave, then he’s coming up and things could get complicated.”
Arch knew he could probably fly the twin-engine airplane parked at the terminal, but he also knew it was unlikely he could fake his way into Lihue airport talking back and forth with the air controller. He also knew that there wasn’t going to be any deal with the pilot of the plane without the help of Atlantis. She had the one-on-one relationship with Doug. Arch had no idea what planes and pilots flew in and out of the air field. The sight of the big C-130 diving in, and then out of the postage stamp strip still remained fresh in his mind. The little dual engine rig with feathered props, just below the main window, looked like a Tonka toy in comparison. Atlantis disappeared into the women’s room, located near the steel door to the back stairs behind the bar. She re-appeared before the small plane’s engines stopped turning. She looked entirely different than when she’d gone into the restroom. Her long hair was thrown out behind her. Her top was half-open, and there was an air of expressive enthusiasm emanating out from behind her radiant smile. Arch was surprised and it showed.
“You like?” she asked, sweeping toward the door to the stairs without waiting for an answer. Cyn frowned first at her, and then at Arch, but quickly followed Atlantis toward the stairs.
Arch watched the plane’s automatic door slowly open, the end unhinging three little steps down to the ground. Four passengers deplaned from the Beechcraft King Air 350. Two men and two women, all appearing middle-aged and prosperous. The pilot followed them out. All five were attired in typical island attire. Aloha shirts and cotton slacks for the men, with halters and shorts for the women. The pilot differed in wearing a blue flying cap with ‘scrambled eggs’ on its visor, and a matching blue suit. All five headed toward the main entry to the terminal without any delay. There was no way Atlantis and Cyn were going to interdict them, as it was obvious they were coming in for libations and food at the restaurant.
Arch ran to the serving table with Raul and Jeremy hidden beneath. There was little question they were coming to. Arch couldn’t secure them to the table, but they were still restrained. They could only get free if either one man or the other broke out of the tape, was able to get out from under the table and then helped the other. In spite of the fact that Arch was a terminal target of the Agency, Arch could not kill Agency personnel without forfeiting his own life. He pulled back, brought the table cloth back down to cover them, and moved over to sit at the bar and wait, while reflecting on the fact that the men’s injuries might enrage them enough that he’d regret not taking their lives when he had the chance.
Cyn led the ensemble as they reached the top of the main stairway. Atlantis entered the room arm-in-arm with the pilot, as if coming into a ballroom with her beau back in high school.
“Here’s my friend,” Atlantis said, leading the pilot around Cyn to make the introduction to Arch.
Arch shook hands with the tanned well-built pilot, but didn’t know what to say after that. They all stood awkwardly together, as if waiting for someone else to be the first one to talk.
“Nice landing,” Arch offered. “You get your training in the military?”
“Nah, I was the bartender here when I started taking lessons in Lihue,” the man responded, with a broad unfounded grin. ” It looked like the flight from Princeville to Lihue was on, but at what real cost Arch could not say, only dread. By using a bribe of unknown size and type they were gambling everything on a pilot who’d gotten his flight training while tending bar at a dead aviatrix restaurant inside an unknown little airport on Kauai.
Doug, the bartender pilot, wanted to talk to Arch alone, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing. He’d gone back down to wait at the plane while Arch gathered together with Atlantis, Cyn and Harpo. Atlantis informed them that she had told Doug that if he would do the flight they would give him four thousand dollars in cash.
“You told him what?” Arch said, shock registering in his voice. He stood in the stairwell with the two beautiful, but wildly strange women. To keep the tourists at the bar happy, Atlantis had thrown a pitcher of Mai Tais together, along with a couple of bowls of some strange oriental crackers. The pilot had taken a water glass full of Mai Tais with him down to the plane, which didn’t make Arch feel any better ll.
“What did you want me to say?” Atlantis asked, defiantly. “I don’t make deals every day for world class criminals to be hustled aboard airplanes operated by friends. I told him about the four thousand because it’s all we have. He’ll understand we can’t give it all to him.”
“Right,” Arch replied, trying to keep the disdain from coming through too heavily. “I’m sure letting us keep what we need from that amount is what he wants to talk to me about down there.”
“Why don’t you just say it?” Atlantis stated, flatly. “You’re calling me an idiot and here I am risking everything to help you. My job, my kid at home, my reputation on Kauai, all of it.”
“Kid at home?” Arch asked, nonplussed.
“Damien,” Cyn said. “Her son. He’s fifteen.”
“Damn,” Arch replied, softly. Could things get more complicated? How could he force the woman to go with them to Oahu with a kid waiting for her at home?
“He’ll be fine,” Atlantis said, her voice calming. “He’s a great kid and I run off on stupid quests all the time. He’s the level-headed smart one. If he knew about this he’d turn your ass into the police in a heartbeat. Sorry, Cynthia.”
“Look, I apologize,” Arch said, meaning it. “You’re right. But we need some of that cash or getting to Lihue is meaningless.” There was no answer to that so Arch headed down the stairs to the main landing without waiting for a reply. The door of the dual engine Beechcraft King Air 350 gaped open. At least the aircraft was all quality, Arch noted, climbing the little steps and entering the fuselage. Doug was waiting with half a glass of Mai Tai in his left hand and his right extended to shake Arch’s own.
“You can have two grand for the five-minute flight,” Arch said, taking the man’s hand firmly and smiling his sincerest smile. Doug let his hand fall after they shook. His own grip had been firm and just long enough. Doug was giving nothing away. They sat in aisle seats across from one another, the pilot taking swigs from the glass before commenting.
“Let’s see, there’s a brand new SUV sitting wrecked inside the brush near the terminal. I presume that has something to do with your exit from Princeville. I also heard a government C-130 made a touch and go here a few hours back. That would be you too. Four grand’s cheap for the risk, screw the distance or time. I’m going to get caught and my only defense will be that I didn’t know squat. That might or might not fly, depending on what they want you for. I’d say it’s well worth four grand.”
Arch felt like God had handed him the genius from the movie Princess Bride. The word “inconceivable” came to Arch’s mind. The pilot of the airplane they desperately needed to get them to Lihue undetected, was attempting to take every dime they had just to reach that preliminary destination.
“We’re not fugitives from justice,” Arch told the man, growing more unsettled by the moment, not by the man’s direct negotiation style but by his consumption of alcohol.
“No crimes charged, yet. So you’re off the hook there”. According to state and federal law you aren’t required to help the police do anything, and you don’t have to mention the money.”
“It’s not exactly the police I’m concerned about,” Doug laughed, killing the remainder of his pint-sized Mai Tai. “Local cops don’t fly in on special operations aircraft and they don’t much appreciate their equipment being dumped in the bushes either. Anybody else flying in is going to see that SUV from the air, like I did.”
“Thanks for the advice,” Arch replied, trying to be sincere. ” As you know, we’ve only got four thousand bucks in cash. No cards. No nothing. I’ve got to get to the station and the control officer in Honolulu, so we can’t give it all to you.”
“You’re a spook, then?” Doug asked. Ignoring the question,
“Three grand,” Arch offered. The pilot appeared to be too knowledgeable to give any more away. “You can have three grand in small bills. That leaves us a thousand for the rest of the trip.”
“You a flyer?” Doug asked, without commenting on the offer.
“Twin engine commercial and rotary,” Arch replied, failing to add that he wasn’t up to date on anything.
“You can sit in the second seat since my drinking, which makes me a better pilot by the way, seems to irritate you. But I want a favor.”
“Favor?” Arch asked, not knowing what the man might be getting at.
“You’re one of them,” Doug said, pointing at Arch with his empty glass. “The great unwashed secret governmental bunch of crapheads. I might need a favor in the future. You promise that, and three grand, and you get a ride no questions asked.”
“Other than the one’s you’ve already asked,” Arch replied, getting up to leave the plane. Paying the drunken pilot three grand for a five-minute flight didn’t make him happy, since the remaining thousand wasn’t much when it came to bribing people like Doug, if they’d guessed they might be in trouble. In truth, however, he knew the three grand was cheap. If Doug had any real idea of who was chasing them he’d refuse the money, and take the first flight back to the mainland. “Sorry, I didn’t know they were wanted” wasn’t going to work with the real players.
“I’ll get the cash,” Arch said, leaning down to slip through the fuselage opening.
“No worries,” Doug answered. “Atlantis is good for it. I’d love to take it out in trade, but she’s more flash than follow through, if you get my drift. When do you want to leave?”
“You need to file a flight plan first,” Arch reminded him, hating that he’d had to remind him. “When they squawk back we’ll take off.” Arch climbed down the steps, wondering whether if it became necessary he’d be able to take the controls of the plane from the pilot.